U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Kiribati

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006

Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic with a population of approximately 92 thousand. The country has a popularly elected president and a legislative assembly of 42 members: 40 are elected by universal adult suffrage, the Rabi Island council of I-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji selects 1, and the attorney general is an ex officio member. The president exercises executive authority and is elected for a four-year term. The legislative assembly nominates at least three, and no more than four, presidential candidates from among its members. The most recent parliamentary and presidential elections, held in May and July 2003 respectively, were considered generally free and fair. Anote Tong of the Boutokan te Koaua party was elected president. Elected village councils run local governments in consultation with traditional village elders. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. The following human rights problems were reported:

  • instances of extrajudicial communal justice
  • some limits on press freedom
  • violence and discrimination against women
  • child abuse and child prostitution


1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In October 2004 at the direction of a traditional local council, a mob on an outer island burned numerous buildings and killed a man. Those involved in the killing were arrested and tried. In February and July the High Court convicted three persons of murder in the case, including the village elder who instigated the attacks. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Traditional village practice permits corporal punishment for criminal acts and other transgressions. On some outer islands village associations occasionally ordered strokes with palm fronds to be administered for public drunkenness and other minor offenses, such as petty theft.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. Children under age 16 were not incarcerated. There was no separate facility for juvenile offenders age 16 or older. Juveniles age 16 to 17 generally may be detained no longer than a month in the adult facility. However, for more serious offenses, such as murder, juveniles over the age of 16 can be held in custody for more than a month and can be sentenced to longer terms. Pretrial detainees who did not meet bail were housed with convicted prisoners.

Family members and church representatives were allowed access to prisoners. Diplomats and senior judicial officials visited the prisons, including some unannounced visits, and reported no problems.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The commissioner of police and prisons, who reports directly to the Office of the President, heads the police force. There are three superintendents under the commissioner responsible, respectively, for crime and security, prisons, and administrative functions. The force consisted of approximately 300 police officers and 44 correctional officers, and was reasonably effective in maintaining law and order. Police corruption and impunity generally were not serious problems. The police commissioner is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct, and police officers occasionally were dismissed.

Arrest and Detention

In most cases magistrates issue warrants before an arrest is made. Persons taken into custody without a warrant must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours or within a reasonable amount of time when arrested in remote locations. During the year one individual was held for several weeks without being charged. The law requires that arrested individuals be informed of their rights, which include the right to legal counsel during questioning and the right not to incriminate themselves. Two police officers must be present at all times during questioning of detainees, who also are provided the option of writing and reviewing statements given to police. Many individuals were released on their own recognizance pending trial, and bail was granted routinely for many offenses. Detainees were allowed prompt access to legal counsel.

There were no reports of political detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.

The judiciary consists of magistrates' courts, the High Court, and the Court of Appeal.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There is no trial by jury. An accused person must be informed of the charges and be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides for the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions. Defendants facing serious criminal charges are entitled to free legal representation. Procedural safeguards are based on British common law and include the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Cases of extrajudicial traditional communal justice, in which village elders decide cases and mete out punishment, remained a part of village life, especially on remote outer islands. However, the incidence of this practice was declining under pressure from the codified national law. There were reports that in extreme cases, those deemed guilty may be banished from an island or even killed (see section 1.a.).

Political Prisoners

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and with some limitations, the government generally respected these rights in practice. Under the Newspaper Registration Act, newspapers are required to register with the government. In July the information minister and the attorney general publicly admonished the government-owned Broadcasting and Publications Authority (BPA) for airing stories critical of the government, including accusations of corruption. The attorney general stated that the law that created the BPA did not provide for the right of its journalists to carry out investigative reporting.

In December a journalist for Radio Kiribati reportedly was dismissed after refusing to reveal his sources for a report about a case of alleged corruption involving the auditor general.

The country had three weekly newspapers: one government owned, one church owned, and one privately owned. The government also owned AM and FM radio stations in Tarawa. There was one privately owned FM radio station. Churches published newsletters and other periodicals.

There were no government restrictions on the Internet or academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The police refused to issue a permit for one demonstration during the year, citing the possibility of violence.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was no known Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice. The law prohibits government restrictions on citizens' freedom of movement; however, it does not restrict such actions by village councils.

The law provides for the forced expulsion from the country of a convicted person, if "in the interests of" defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or environmental conservation. The government has not used forced exile. However, on rare occasions village councils have banished persons from a specific island within the country, usually for a fixed period of time. The legality of this form of punishment has never been challenged.

Protection of Refugees

The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no applications for refugee resettlement or asylum during the year, and the country had no formal association with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The most recent parliamentary elections were held in May 2003. Then-opposition leader Anote Tong of the Boutokan Te Koaua party was elected president in July 2003. The elections were considered generally free and fair. The government party and allied independents together held 25 legislative seats. Candidates and parties were free to stand for election. There were no government restrictions on political opponents.

There were 2 women, including the vice president, in the 42-member Parliament, and the head of the civil service was a woman. No women sat on the High Court.

Members of minorities have held cabinet positions in the past. The president and several members of Parliament were of mixed descent.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Nepotism, based on tribal, church, and family ties, is prevalent. The auditor general (AG) is responsible for oversight of government expenditures. However, in reality the AG lacked sufficient resources, and findings of misappropriations and unaccounted-for funds were generally ignored, or the investigations were inconclusive.

In July the speaker of parliament defended himself against accusations of corruption following media revelations that he had taken his driver to a meeting in Taiwan at taxpayers' expense.

No specific law provides for citizen or media access to government information. In practice the government was fairly responsive to individual requests for information.

4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There were no restrictions on the formation of local human rights nongovernmental organizations, but none have been formed. There were no restrictions on operations by international human rights groups. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or sex, and the government observed these prohibitions in practice; however, only native I-Kiribati may own land. Society is fundamentally egalitarian and has no privileged class.


Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Alcohol abuse frequently was a factor in attacks on women. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, and the law was enforced when charges were brought to court. However, prosecutions for rape and domestic assault were infrequent, largely due to cultural taboos on reporting such crimes.

Prostitution is not illegal, and child prostitution was highlighted as a problem by the UN Children's Fund and other international NGOs (see section 5, Children). Procuring sex and managing brothels are illegal; however, in many instances police did not actively enforce the law. The law does not specifically prohibit sex tourism. There were multiple reports of Korean fishermen engaging in sexual acts with minors (see section 5, Children). Obscene or indecent behavior is banned.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment. It sometimes occurred but generally was not regarded as a major problem.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sex; however, the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Nevertheless, women were slowly finding work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. Women filled many government office and teaching positions. The law prohibits night work by women except in seven occupations, including health worker, business manager, and hotel, bar, and restaurant worker; however, there were no reported prosecutions based on this ordinance. Statistics generally were not well collected in the country, and data on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable. Women have full rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education.


Within its limited financial resources, the government made adequate expenditures for child welfare. Primary education is compulsory, free, and universal for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years. In practice the government did not enforce primary school attendance. According to the Department of Statistics, 93.5 percent of all school-age children attended primary school. Boys and girls had similar attendance rates. The approximately 40 percent of primary school graduates who pass a national examination qualify for 3 additional years of subsidized junior secondary and 4 years of subsidized senior secondary education; a small fee was charged to other students who wished to matriculate at these levels.

The government provided free medical services for children.

Chronic alcohol abuse leading to child abuse (physical and occasionally sexual) and neglect continued to be a problem. Early in the year the police established a unit specifically focused on child and family violence.

A study conducted in June by the National Youth Commission of the Republic of Korea and a Korea-based children's rights group reported commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls by crew members of Korean fishing vessels that stopped in Kiribati. Some of the girls worked as prostitutes in bars frequented by crew members. According to the study, the girls generally received cash or goods in exchange for sexual services.

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, there were no complaints of discrimination in employment, education, or the provision of other state services for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Accessibility of buildings for persons with disabilities has not been mandated; special accommodations for persons with disabilities were basically nonexistent.

The central hospital on Tarawa had a wing for persons with mental disabilities, and there was a psychiatrist working on Tarawa. Foreign-based aid workers and the World Health Organization cooperated with the Ministry of Health to conduct outer-island workshops for health workers.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and workers are free to join and organize unions; workers exercised these rights in practice.

More than 80 percent of the adult workforce was occupied in fishing or subsistence farming. The small wage-earning workforce had a relatively strong and effective trade union movement. An estimated 10 percent of wage-earning workers were union members. There were no official public sector trade unions, but nurses and teachers belonged to voluntary employee associations similar to unions and constituted approximately 30 to 40 percent of total union and association membership.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law protects workers from employer interference in their right to organize and administer unions. The government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the government. The law provides for collective bargaining. The government sets wages in the large public sector. However, in a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, employees could negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, individual employees also could negotiate wages with employers. In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, and there were mechanisms to resolve any complaints that might arise.

The law provides for the right to strike, but strikes are rare; the last one took place in 1980.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. The prohibition does not mention specifically forced and compulsory labor by children; however, there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under age 14. Children through the age of 15 are prohibited from industrial employment and employment aboard ships. Labor officers from the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources Development generally enforced these laws effectively. Children rarely were employed outside the traditional economy.

Underage girls were solicited for prostitution (see section 5).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage-earning workforce consisted of approximately eight thousand persons, mostly employed on the main atoll of Tarawa, the political and commercial capital. The remainder of the working population works within a subsistence economy. There is no official minimum wage, but the labor ministry estimated the "non-legislated" minimum to be between $1.20 and $1.28 (A$1.60 to A$1.70) per hour in practice. There is provision for a minimum wage at ministerial discretion, but it has never been implemented. In 2004 the Asian Development Bank reported that approximately one half of the population lived below the national basic needs poverty line. Income tended to be pooled within individual extended families. The standard wage income provided a marginally decent standard of living for a worker and family. There is no legislatively prescribed workweek. Workers in the public sector (80 percent of the wage-earning workforce) worked 36¼ hours per week, with overtime pay for additional hours.

Employment laws provide rudimentary health and safety standards for the workplace. For example, employers must provide an adequate supply of clean water for workers and ensure the availability of sanitary toilet facilities. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. However, a lack of qualified personnel hampered the government's ability to enforce employment laws. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous work sites without risking loss of employment.


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